Unintentional Gender Lessons in the Schools

Authored by: Andrew P. Smiler

Handbook of Social Justice in Education

Print publication date:  December  2008
Online publication date:  June  2009

Print ISBN: 9780805859270
eBook ISBN: 9780203887745
Adobe ISBN: 9781135596149


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For most children, schooling represents their first contact with a governmental institution of social control. As such, schools provide an important setting for transmitting socially held values. These social values include beliefs about gender-appropriate behavior, and most of these lessons are transmitted informally through school structures, teachers’ comments, curricula, and students themselves. These gender lessons are particularly important in America, where gender is an organizing cultural principle (Bem, 1993) that influences academic and vocational performance and choices, family roles, sexual behavior, and other aspects of daily life such as “polite” behavior. Within a patriarchal and heterosexist society that purports to have prohibited gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment, we might question what lessons students learn about gender and how they do so.

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